The Ultimate Guide to Moving to London

What I wish I’d known, explained.

Before you arrive

Research the parts of London you might be interested in living in

Inside Central London there are a whole bunch of different parts of town that you could live in. People tend to find an area that suits their personality and stick with it; in my case, I love North London. I’ve previously lived in West London (which I found a bit dull) and South London (which has the worst transport connections, but is often very trendy). So I’m happy where I am now. But the areas are so different to each other that it pays to read up. Obviously it’s going to become much more obvious when you walk through those areas, but come with some idea of what is appealing to each part of town.

Have a sensible idea of a budget (and some savings!)

So here’s the thing that keeps coming up: London is expensive. So think about this before you get in. You’re pretty unlikely to find a rental room for under £600 a month in this town (and that will be pretty tough too), plus council tax (which depends on the council and the cost band the place falls under, but can be £30–80 a month depending. You don’t pay if you’re a student!), electricity (has always been about £20–40 in my experience), mobile phone (£15–20), water (£20), internet (£20ish)… Finding a job might also take time, so if you don’t have something lined up you really need to get some savings together and arrive with a few months of living supplies.

Get your documents in order

Passports, birth certificate, whatever will help initially prove that you are who you say you are. You’re going to need to do a lot of admin as soon as you arrive, so get on top of this as early as possible. If you’ve ever rented, it could be useful to have a reference handy. Same for any jobs. And if you have savings back home, bring evidence of that too.

When You Arrive

National Insurance Number

You need one of these in order to work. So get onto your local JobCentre. You can book online to go in, show all your documentation, and prove you’re eligible to work in the UK. They’ll provide you a number by post, so this does take some time and is worth booking in advance, if you can.

Bank Account

Here’s a fun one: it’s almost impossible to get a bank account without an address, and almost impossible to get an address without a bank account. Fun times. But if you know anyone who can provide you an address and you can prove you’re coming to be productive in the UK, you should be able to get a local account. It’s worth checking if your home bank account has any connection with any UK bank. Otherwise, you might have to find a room and pay some rental upfront, in order to secure an address (or have a guarantor). Then you’ll be able to get an account — eventually. You can compare lots of different types, though it definitely is much easier if you’re a student.


The fun really begins here. Estate agents in the UK are basically the most horrendous people, so get prepared for some top class BS on this one. If you look for a whole apartment via conventional routes (Zoopla or Rightmove, etc), you’ll have to prove you can afford a place, show any possible references, and pay a deposit and four to six weeks upfront. You’ll also likely have to pay agent fees (usually in the order of £200 for… no good reason at all). Many places are scrapping the fees now and it is worth investigating, because it’s a tonne of money for basically no real service. Fees are banned in Scotland, but that policy hasn’t quite reached the south yet.

  1. Some agents will lie and cheat to get you to ‘bid’ with your rent, suggesting that others are interested in the same place and have offered more money in order to get you to increase your rental offering. Be clear what your limit is on this, and whether it’s worth engaging. After all, there are always more spare rooms and spare flats in London, so don’t freak out if you lose a place.
  2. Ensure your deposit is going to a Deposit Protection Scheme. It’s illegal for this not to occur, but particularly if you are renting direct, some landlords may not be as on top of this as they should be. So ask ahead, check, and have your deposit protected by a third party. Do not give your deposit in cash. It shouldn’t be kept by your landlord or an agent to be returned at their discretion, that is illegal. It should be protected so that if there is an issue when you move out, it goes through a third party channel and is properly investigated. This way you can avoid having your deposit unnecessarily withheld.

Building a credit score

This all gets easier once you’ve been in the country 6+ months. Keep track of all your key addresses — on your bank account, any credit cards, the electoral roll, etc. As soon as you are able to join an electoral roll, do so. All the addresses connected to you and your place of residence will help you build a history. If you’re ever hoping to live a normal life in the UK, you’re going to need to build a credit score. So definitely get this in order by keeping addresses up to date, and seeking out a credit card or overdraft if you’re eligible. A service like ClearScore can help you down the track to keep on top of this.

NHS Access

Depending on where you’ve all come in from, you may or may not have instant access to the National Health Service. Quite important if you ever need any health care in the UK. So check your country’s individual agreement with the UK. If you’ve come from the EU, you’re currently automatically entitled. But unfortunately, even if you’re from the Commonwealth, there’s usually an additional fee you have to pay in order to get any access to health care. There is a tonne more information about this here.


I want to note here that you can’t live in London without an Oyster card, and you should get into detail on the available ‘travelcards’ as they will save you cash. This really depends on which zones you’re likely to travel between, so check out the above link for more information on that. You can also use your contactless card for transportation, but you have to register online on Transport for London’s website.

Okay, all the practical stuff aside…

Look up activities to get involved with

Meeting people in London is HARD. Really hard. And meeting ‘original Londoners’…. well, forget it. I mean, they’re around. But chances are you will more easily meet other newcomers to London, or people who moved here with the same ideas once upon a time. All my friends come from other towns and cities outside London in the UK, or are from abroad.

Get involved in the community

There are tonnes of ways to get involved and feel more a part of London life, but a particularly lovely way is through volunteering. Team London is a fantastic source for this, and you can volunteer for all kinds of causes doing all kinds of things. This can be great as an interim too, when you’re looking for a permanent role.

Find your niche

Are you into sports? Arts? Theatre? There are literally endless possibilities in London, so whatever you’re into, there’s a class, workshop, club or event for that. It’s time to start googling and seeking out London events that will help you connect to this unwieldy city. Whether it’s fitness related or music related, or whatever, you need to get involved and make the most of this incredible place to live. I know it’s an adjustment. The pace of life is totally different. But I honesty believe that having cultivated interests and being quite active is the best antidote to the occasional aggression, the darkness, the wetness and coldness of London life.

What About Brexit?

Good question. We’d all like to know. I wrote recently on what EU citizens should do to prepare, but that only applies if you get here before Brexit happens. We still have no clear answers, otherwise. So I can’t really be more helpful on this one.

Anything else?

I hope this is a good starting point for you, if you’re considering a big move over here. You might also appreciate my other London article, which is much more about the misconceptions of living here (and is mostly a laugh, I promise!):

Written by

Trying to live better. Writing on Mental Health, Relationships, and Living Ethically. Editor/Podcaster.

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